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Battle of Catalaunian Plains, 451

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Attila the Hun versus Flavius Aetius: A Hunnic army under Attila turns to face its pursuer – a Roman army under Aetius – when it runs low on supplies. Both armies comprise a vast variety of nationalities so how will these divisions affect the conduct of this truly international battle? Also known as the Battle of Chalons, Chalon, Catalaunian Field and the Campus Mauriacus. Click on images below to view PowerPoint presentation. | Legend |
 
 
The significance of this battle has been over-stated by authors such as Creasy (1851) and Ferrill (1989), and marginalized by authors such as Howarth (1994) and Fuller (1954). The battle is chronologically between two more important engagements: the abandoned Siege of Orleans which Fuller refers to as the real decisive battle in repelling the Hunnic invasion (1954: 294) and the Battle of Nedao which forced the decline of the Hunnic Empire after Attila’s death.
 
Attila’s defeat can be attributed to his neglect of protecting his flanks. Due to the Visigoths’ imposing presence on the hill, Attila’s left flank was exposed as soon as he led his army out of the wagon laager. His penetration of the Roman center was ill-advised for it only created more vulnerable flanks and constricted the use of his cavalry; he therefore lacked the proper amount of force to successfully defeat his enemy with this maneuver. Aetius’ tactics were largely political; he preserved his Roman units while maneuvering just enough to gain the field by falling upon the Hunnic rear. Aetius then ensured the balance of power in the region by preventing Thorismund from destroying the Huns with a clever ploy.
 
 
Sources for this battle are extremely vague and contradictory, frustrating early attempts to animate it. For example, both Fuller (1954) and Howarth (1994) reverse the positions of the Gepids and Ostrogoths in the Hunnic battle line while no contemporary recorded the battle, or lack thereof, between the Romans and Gepids (Gordon, 2000). As such, much of the events shown during this animation are admittedly assumed.
 
- Jonathan Webb
 
Works Consulted
 
DeVries, Kelly. “Catalaunian Field, AD 451.” In Battles of the Ancient World 1300 BC – AD 451, 206-215.London: Amber, 2007.
 
Ferrill, Arthur. “Attila at Châlons.” Military History Quarterly 1.4 (1989): 48-55.
 
Fuller, J.F.C. The A Military History of the Western World Vol. 1. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1954.
 
Gordon, Richard. “Battle of Chalons: Attila the Hun Versus Flavius Aetius.” History Net. http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-chalons-attila-the-hun-versus-flavius-aetius.htm (accessed July 10, 2010).
 
Howarth, Patrick. Attila, King of the Huns: The Man and the Myth. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2001.
 
Man, John. Attila: The Barbarian King Who Challenged Rome. New York: T. Dunne/St. Martin’s, 2006.

Images

Attilla the Hun: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attila_the_Hun
 
Flavius Aetius: http://theo.inrne.bas.bg/~dtrif/abv/Aetius,%20two%20pictures.htm
 
Hun and Ostrogoth soldiers: http://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthread.php?t=262012
 
Roman and Visigoth soldiers: http://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthread.php?t=262012
 

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  1. 3 Comments to “Battle of Catalaunian Plains, 451”

  2. in this battle aetius stopped huns but the nextyear (452), attila and huns gathered a larger army and invaded italian peninsula. and this time there was no aetius or roma-frank allied army to stop him. so we can say aetius lost his army and this is not a victory for romans.

    By burak on Aug 20, 2010 at 11:11 pm

  3. There’s a great reenactment on the History Chanel Decisive Battles. You fail to mention that Attila stayed in his wagon circle until almost dawn. When Theorodic dies, he was pushed back by his own calvary and trampled to death. Instead of loosing moral, his men were enraged and his son was more than capable of leading. The battle lasted well into the night and Aetius actually got lost in the dark and mistook the Huns Calvary as his own right before the battle ended for the night.

    By Mike on Dec 3, 2011 at 11:49 pm

  4. Here the link. The commentary is great and the battle is reenacted using video game technology, Total War Rome by The Creative Assembly.

    http://wn.com/Birth_of_the_Roman_Empire__Decisive_Battles__History_Channel#

    By Mike on Dec 3, 2011 at 11:57 pm

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